Acceptance is a theme that has been running through many facets of my life, and even more so recently. The more I seek solace in the structure I’ve established in my life, the more I realize what an illusion this structure is and how my grasping to this illusion of control is a source of much of the discomfort in my life. No matter how many good habits I nurture, there will always be things beyond my control, and it’s these uncontrollables that manifest in anxiety, frustration, and stress. Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, said: “We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.” I can completely identify with this idea of “condemnation”, as my typical first response is to scream and throw a temper tantrum when things do not go according to “my plan”.
Intuitively, I know that my sense of control is a fallacy, but in actual fact, I live in denial that this universal truth doesn’t apply to me, only to everyone else. I’m quick to give advice to others to simply go with the flow, but for me, the natural course is to attempt to swim upstream and bash my head against every rock along the way. Whenever we are faced with big crises such as job loss, depression, overwhelming anxiety, illness, or trauma, our first battle cry is usually “Why me?” I’m only just beginning to realize that the better response to these crises is to say, “Okay, this happened, so what is it teaching me?” This is a subtle mindset shift, but it can have a significant impact on working through this discomfort.
Learning to be with my discomfort and allowing it to wash over me, is a potent source of transformation and personal evolution. The ancient Romans described this as “amor fati”, which is loosely translated as “seeking virtue in loving one’s fate.” By facing this discomfort head on and actively choosing not to rally against it, we become more in tune with the natural flow of life, but most importantly, we build up an armor against uncertainty that allows us to lean into even greater challenges to come. Buddhists incorporate this into their mindfulness practice, as the acceptance of universal suffering is a mainspring of humanity.
So, how can we suppress our ego-centric why me voice and begin to relinquish illusionary control for the much more healthful feeling of acceptance? If I survey my life and focus on the pivotal moments when I’ve had the most spiritual growth and maturity, I quickly realize that they are the outgrowth of coming through challenge, struggle, or trauma. Life gives us exactly what we need, and often courage, empathy, and/or wisdom are the harvest of uncertainty. Over the past five months, I’ve started to distill this process down to a few basic “truths”. (1) I can’t control everything, so stop fighting and start floating along. (2) Denial and avoidance may be comforting in the short term, but awareness and acceptance pay long-term dividends. (3) Breathe, get perspective, and be kind to myself. Sometimes the answer to a problem comes from the most unlikely of places. (4) If I can’t control the universe and I can’t control most of the things in my life, why would I think I can control or change someone else? (5) Being “perfect” is impossible, and even if it were, it wouldn’t be that much fun.